Reviewby Caitlin Moore,
After School Dice Club
Miki, a Kyoto high school student, has never really connected with her peers. She just couldn't get into the popular interests and activities like karaoke or fashion. She's more or less given up on having a social life until her recently-transferred classmate, Aya, almost crashes into her on her bike. The two decide to explore the city and at the end of the evening, catch their class rep Midori in the entertainment district after curfew! They follow her to figure out what's going on, and discover she works at Saikoro Club, a store specializing in tabletop games.
After the first episode, I was ready to dismiss After School Dice Club as fine, but generic, cute girls hobby anime. The kind of show that's all well and good if that's your thing, but unlikely to spark my interest. I kept watching out of professional obligation, and something surprising happened: I started to like it. Like, really like it.
There's no one part of it that particularly stands out. The girls are likable, but can't match a masterful character study like A Place Further than the Universe. There's some jokes, but it's not exactly a comedy; there's some narrative structure, but no one would call it a drama. No particular element is especially remarkable, but together they make something lovely. Like the board games it features, the key to After School Dice Club is balance.
As someone who has dabbled in tabletop games—nothing hardcore, but I have Dominion and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective on my shelf, among others—I was struck by the accuracy and love that the games and the culture around them is presented. Saikoro Club's tidy shelves are lined with real-world games, including a few I own myself, and the atmosphere of the store, complete with a table in the middle for people to try out games, closely resembles more than a few of the stores I've been to in real life. Much of each episode is devoted to discussing various games' rules and strategies. Not all the games are fun to watch as spectators, and it can get a bit dry and drag, but the episode usually picks steam back up by the end.
What's more, this show gets games. Not just the nitty-gritty details of individual games, but what makes them fun. The first episode is a little off on this—no one really trying to get new people into games would go as hard as the shop owner does on Aya and Miki—but over time, it makes a serious examination of the nature of structured play through both homebrew games and refining the cross-cultural children's game that I grew up with as “What time is it, Mr. Fox?”
As a trio, Aya, Miki, and Midori each represent one of the different kinds of people who get into tabletop gaming. Miki is an introvert who finds the structure of gameplay makes it easier for her to interact and engage with others. Aya is an extrovert who plays games as another form of socialization and bonding. Midori has an analytical mind that is attracted to the rules, structure, and strategy of games more than the social aspect, but still enjoys the social aspect. Later, Emilia joins the cast, but more as a foil and rival for Midori than anything else.
One thing I struggle with in cute girl anime is the sense that their lives are taking place in a vacuum, divorced from any context of the outside world, making everything feel a bit flat. Not so here. Even if Miki, Aya, Midori, and Emilia are the core group of friends, they have plenty of involvement with the world, both in the present and in the past. After all, gaming brings people together, and they're eager to share their interests with other people they care about. They play with their families, with other friends, even with boys who like them. Instead of making things more insular, games help to expand their world and their community, which has been my real-world experience as well.
It's a good-looking show too, more so than I would have expected from a premise that doesn't demand much technical wizardry with its animation. The designs do have a bit of same-face going on, but that doesn't mean the girls are differentiated just by hair color—each has their own physicality and body language. Kyoto is well-realized as well, recognizable to people who have spent time in the city without leaning heavily on tourist spots to give it a sense of place. Everything is animated in bright colors and, while it won't earn a lot of attention for its fluidity, the animation is perfectly serviceable.
Both the English and Japanese casts put on strong performances. The roles don't call for a lot of subtlety or dramatic chops, but the script is full of lengthy monologues explaining rules and gameplay. This kind of dialogue can be difficult to deliver effectively in character without becoming either droning or overly-affected, so while it's not showy or designed to pull at the heartstrings, the voice actors on all sides deserve credit.
An interesting difference between the dub and sub is the matter of Midori's accent. In the Japanese, she chooses to speak in the standard dialect rather than the Kyoto dialect that most of the other characters use, citing it being more logical. Linguistically speaking, that doesn't really make sense, but in English they decided against using accents at all, besides Mikaela Krantz's German accent as Emilia. That was honestly a relief, since the Kansai dialect (which the Kyoto and Osaka dialects are both variations of) is usually localized as poorly-performed Southern accents.
After School Dice Club offers the best of both worlds in terms of narrative and iyashikei anime. It takes the emphasis on friendship and good times and adds just enough development and structure to keep the tension and interest of people who normally don't care for storyless series. The focus on female friendship is lovely, but having a few key male characters removes the hint of fetishism that lurks under the surface of many cute girl shows where men don't exist. Even if I can't get together and play board games with my friends like I normally would, it was nice getting to spend time vicariously enjoying my hobby through Miki, Aya, Midori, and Emilia.
Overall : B
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Music : B
+ Likable characters; genuinely understands games and the people who play them.
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